Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Failed Carfree Attempt

For those of you interested in such things, there's an article by a writer who attempted to do without his car, somewhat enjoyed it, but eventually gave up. It's fairly entertaining and hits on some key points of the learning process. I'll address a few points here.

After two weeks of riding my bicycle everywhere, I'd gotten used to people treating me as if I were somehow not right in the head. Store clerks ignored me, old men gave me the hard stare, soccer moms avoided eye contact. After all, almost nobody in America rides a bike if they can afford a car.

This has not been our experience at all. Most people are exceedingly friendly and certainly don't ignore us because of our bike helmets. Granted, we wear normal clothes and live in a better than average bicycle town. At any rate, we get far more waves and hellos and less rudeness from others on bike than we did in our car.

I think the author's view typifies the "car replacement" mentality I've discussed before. The straw that breaks this cycler's back is a sudden urge for canned soup at night when he comes down with a cold. One small change we've made is switching from canned to powdered broth. It seems silly, but small things like this add up, and they only come with practice. Certainly, it's no sillier than driving a 3500 pound car 6 miles for a couple of cans of soup.

The best point the author raises is that forcing a bicycle to replace a car instantly is challenging. The author had made a lot of decisions already that worked against his venture's success. He lived in a rural suburb, six miles from groceries. He had little experience riding for transportation. He had a fleet of bikes optimized for racing and recreation.

Given the long odds, I think he did pretty well. I'll leave you with this quote, which I think will lead the author back to bikes for transportation someday:

Still, by the end of that first shakedown week, I was growing to enjoy my bike-bound, self-propelled life [. . .] By necessity, I chose less-traveled roads, which led me to some interesting local discoveries, like a natural-foods market run by the Amish that stocked wild salmon and bison steaks. In fact, I looked forward to longer trips, like a 10-mile jaunt to a local college library. The fresh air and exercise kept me alert during the afternoons, and after humping an Oven Stuffer Roaster up a 2-mile grade, there was certainly no need to go to the gym.


Anonymous Mike said...

He (Bill Gifford, the article author) is right when he says gas is a bargain at $2.49 a gallon. It is -- not as much as at $.89 a gallon, but still a bargain. Unfortunately, what I gather from his ending the article with that observation is that he's given up on using his bicycle for transportation. Too many people seem to view this as an "all or nothing" proposition. If he decides to drive to the grocery store to buy some soup, he thinks he's failed. Much better if he were to decide to continue his utilitarian cycling when he feels he can, supplemented by stock-up trips or other jaunts by car. He may not eliminate his use of the car, but he'll at least be doing his part.
(Of course, I have no room to be critical in this: I have what would be a relatively pleasant 40-mile round trip commute: hilly, but with about 10 miles of sketchy roadway; I work at a college, so I have access to shower facilities for the morning clean-up; I don't make all that much money, so any savings on gasoline costs would be helpful. Yet I still fire up the Vue each morning and evening for the drive, and for the five-mile ride to the grocery store. Perhaps one day I'll practice what I preach ;-)

Apologies for posting a novel in your comments section.

8:18 PM  
Blogger Joe said...

Good thoughts, Mike. People are setting themselves up for failure if it's all or nothing. Even with our relatively easy situation (short commutes, bike friendly town, no kids), it took us a year or so to go from car to car-lite to carfree.

I really think it takes a series of decisions if one really wants to go without a car. Sometimes I wonder if folks like the author are setting themselves up to fail. It's as if people almost want to live out their preconception that living carfree is a Herculean task.

The truth is this. Living without or with less car is easy. It's living with the things that's tough!

If you try the commute, let me know how it goes. I secretly wish we didn't live so close to work some days, so I could have an excuse for a long ride every day.

11:42 PM  
Blogger Keasty said...

Great concept. I make an effort to use the car less. Maybe we'll think about heading that way as a long term goal. I did cycle to town today to buy a phone extension lead. When I got there I realized I needed to check a lead I had at home. So I cycled home, got the lead and then DROVE the 3.5 km back to the shop! Reason: I wanted to watch the cricket which was starting on TV at 11:30am!

8:04 PM  

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